I don’t have a son or a daughter of my own. While I am a quasi step parent to a wonderful 14-year-old boy, my involvement in his life is, unfortunately, limited by circumstance.
Still, I was recently asked by a reader what would I tell my son or daughter if they told me they wanted to be a musician, author, photographer, artist, filmmaker or any other creative.
I know as well as anyone how tough the market is to those entering creative fields and the question becomes, would I push my child away from such a field? And, if not, what advice would I give them?
I ended up thinking a great deal about that question as it moved me and I found myself unsure what I would say. So, I decided to answer it, for both myself and others, with an open letter.
This is what I wrote when I sat down.
Dear Son or Daughter,
First off, I am very excited to learn about your decision to pursue a profession in a creative field. In my mind, you are joining one of the most noble professions on the planet, one that seeks to not just entertain, but to make the world a more beautiful, more expressive and more powerful place.
With your craft, you will have the opportunity to connect with others in a way that few ever do. You will have a chance to be a part of their human experience and to both reflect and shape their emotions. Your work will be both a mirror to their experiences and an experience unto itself.
That is a truly powerful thing and I would never want to dissuade you from chasing that dream.
However, if your goal is to make this your profession and your primary source of income, I have to caution you that times are tough for creatives and it isn’t just your field. Whether you make movies, write books, play music or make art, you are going to face very steep challenges, many of which were not present just 25 years ago.
The problem is two fold:
First, the Internet has drastically increased the competition between creatives to be heard and find an audience. Second, the Web has given everyone the ability to access content for free, legal or not, and many have chosen to not support those who create the works they enjoy.
But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market or opportunities for creatives. After all consumption of content is at an all-time high, but it does mean that there is no linear path to success.
As such, there are three things that you have to accept and prepare for as you begin this journey, none of which will be easy.
First, you will have to be an innovator not just in your field, but in business. You can not follow any one else’s business model. The minute Justin Bieber hit the big time singing covers on YouTube, a million others tried the exact same thing and none have found the same success. In 2015, paths to success aren’t blazed, they’re scorched. Once used, they are not likely repeated.
Second, you can’t afford to play the lottery and you can’t afford to hang on to preconceived notions about your career. While some artists make it big in every field, most working artists do well to earn a living. Focus on that and don’t hold on to preconceived notions about where your money will come from. While you have to set boundaries for yourself, you also need to chase opportunity wherever it lies, even if it deviates from the plan you set forth.
Third, you will have many people, mostly strangers, telling you that you don’t deserve any control over your own work, that it has no value and that you should simply give it away for free.
While there may be a time and place to give away your work, you should always remember that your creations have value born from your work and your creativity. You can’t allow strangers who have never contributed to your work, did not spend countless hours honing your craft and have no interest in doing either determine the price and value of your work.
If you are going to survive in this profession, it must be a business. This means you must wear two hats as the most successful creators aren’t just geniuses in their field, but geniuses in the boardroom too. While that is nothing new, it has become more important than ever.
Finally, I want to talk about plagiarism. I’m sure if you’ve been raised by me, you’re well aware of the importance of citing your sources and being honest when you use the work and ideas of others. I won’t repeat that.
However, I will caution that, if you find even a modicum of success, there will be those who claim you ripped off others, even if you didn’t. Sometimes it’s honest, individuals seeing so much of their work or the work of others in your efforts that they can’t help but raise alarms, but often it’s out of greed, others just hoping to ride your success to their ends or simply to tear you down.
Fortunately, if you are creative and you are original, your work will stand up against those challenges. Just ask any big name from J.K. Rowling to James Cameron.
With all of that being said, I commend your decision. As I said earlier, I think you’re entering a noble profession that makes the world a better place. All art, no matter how seemingly superficial, explores the human condition in some part and in some way.
Artists make us laugh, weep, think and dance. I am proud you will be a part of a profession that will, quite literally, move mankind.